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Charlie Varon, San Francisco playwright

I felt uneasy watching the film but wasn’t sure quite why. . .The many lovers, the many art forms she dips her toe in, the adoring critics and bohemians saying worshipful things. There is something attractive about that New York literary scene… and also something about it all that makes me queasy. Then Susan Sontag’s sister appears, and drops her bombshell. “She wasn’t honest with me.” And that flipped some switch in my brain. Whoa! The sister strikes me as funny, decent, lively and kind. How could Sontag do that to her? What kind of fantasy bubble was Susan living in, and how could the people she knew let her live in that bubble? Were they so dazzled that they gave her a pass on being a normal, decent person? A mensch? Is that the whole point of being one of the bohemian glitterati? Do you become so special that you don’t have to play by the rules? What’s hard for me to face is how much I used to want exactly that. I wanted what Sontag had. At age 19, I fled expectations, family and the East Coast, and came to San Francisco. My cousin Sam was the deviant in our family: bohemian, writer, actor, thinker of dangerous thoughts, frequenter of coffeehouses. Back then, I wanted what Sam had. I was propelled by some romantic notion of being a nonconformist, artist, and sure, why not, also being successful, famous, revered, and not having to play by the rules. I sublet a room in the Mission for $70 a month. I got up in the morning and wrote. I was young and foolish and trying to reinvent myself. So many good things came from this choice I made! It was the decisive moment in my life. And though I now see how silly and problematic my motivations were, I still don’t think it wrong to dare to follow your dreams, no matter how misguided they appear in hindsight. As long as no one gets hurt. I think what terrified me watching your film was this thought: Could I have wound up like that? If I were that brilliant, beautiful and lacking in self-doubt? If I had that kind of magnetism and a circle of adoring worshippers, could I have arrived at such a distorted sense of my own place in the world? Given those conditions, could I, like Sontag, have come to the logical conclusion that I was exempt from such mundane obligations as being a reliable partner in a relationship, a decent friend, an honest family member? Or even exempt from the normal requirements of the world, like dying? A parable comes to mind, attributed to Rabbi Simcha Bunim. It goes: Everyone should keep two slips of paper, one in each pocket. One has the words, “The whole world was created so that you can exist.” The other says, “You are ashes and dust.” Okay, I’ll wrap this up. Thank you for your film, for what it has given me, and for being you! Yours, Charlie